Thousands flee violence in Indonesia’s Papua after boy shot dead

Timika, Indonesia

Church leaders in Indonesia’s conflict-wracked Papua region called for calm Sunday as thousands fled to shelters after a two-year-old boy was killed in a firefight between government troops and independence-seeking rebels.

The restive region at the easternmost edge of the Southeast Asian archipelago has been the scene of intermittent clashes for decades in one of the world’s longest-running insurgencies.

This week, a two-year-old boy was killed in an exchange of gunfire while a six-year-old was hospitalised for bullet wounds sustained in the midst of a firefight in Intan Jaya district, according to authorities, who said the rebels later tried to take control of the local airport.

Police earlier blamed the guerrillas for the deadly shooting, but AFP could not independently verify responsibility for the killing.

Conflicting accounts are common in Papua, where Indonesian security forces have long been dogged by allegations of gross rights abuses against civilians.

Fearing more violence, about 2,000 Papuans have taken shelter in church-run buildings, said Father Dominikus Hodo at the Catholic Diocese in conflict-hit Timika.

“We’re calling on both warring parties to immediately hold a ceasefire and start a dialogue to bring about lasting peace,” Hodo told reporters Sunday.

Papua Police spokesman Faizal Ramadhani acknowledged the killing and that thousands have fled the area, but added that the military were in control of vital public facilities.
“The situation has been getting much better,” he told AFP on Sunday.

Rebel spokesman Sebby Sambom said this week’s firefight was a legitimate battle in the war for independence.—APP

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